Earth has a new tiny visitor. This tourist is Jaq, who comes from the planet Yipsmix, where everyone has synesthesia, a real-life condition where people’s senses become confused when simulated, e.g. they see colours and shapes when they hear sounds. On this planet, it extends to a whole range of senses : words have a taste, numbers inspire an emotion. This is the first in a number of clever touches Sheila Grau brings to this whimsical retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, mixed with a touch of A Wrinkle in Time.
In her foreword, the author mentions her hope that readers with synesthesia will read this book and not feel so lonely and weird. Certainly, the use of synesthesia is organically deployed, skilfully enough that while writing this review, I’m aware of how many ‘w’s are in this sentence, and how painful it would be for Yipsmixers to hear this hated letter. This is a good sign of Grau’s ability to replicate the experiences to add to the reader’s understanding.
It’s a fun trip visiting this new planet with its curious residents, alien customs and strange creatures. The cast of characters are well drawn, with a relatable hero and some very hissable villains. The world-building is unobtrusive, never bogging down the reader and sometimes even adding Douglas Adams-esque notes of the humourous customs of neighbouring planets. Throw in a few pleasingly detailed illustrations from Adam Rex and this is a book stuffed with delights.